Max Verstappen became Formula One’s youngest ever race winner with victory in an enthralling Spanish Grand Prix that saw Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg collide at the start.
Making his debut for Red Bull Racing, Verstappen took the lead midway through the race and remained icy cool in the closing stage as he came under intense pressure from Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen. He crossed the line just 0.6s ahead of the Finn to win aged just 18 years and 227 days, breaking Sebastian Vettel’s seven-year-old record, set when the four-time champion was 21 years old.
At the start pole position man Lewis Hamilton made a poor getaway and was passed by team-mate Nico Rosberg. Attempting fight back, Hamilton closed rapidly on his rival as they exited Turn 3 and went to dive down the inside of Rosberg’s car. However, the championship leader was already moving onto the racing line, with the result that Hamilton went onto the grass. He lost control and spun into the back of Rosberg’s car. Both Mercedes were pitched into into the Turn Four gravel trap and out of the race.
The collision meant that third-on-the-grid Daniel Ricciardo seized the race lead ahead of Max Verstappen, making his Red Bull Racing debut. Carlos Sainz, meanwhile, took third place, with the Toro Rosso driver surging through from P8 at the start as the Ferrari’s of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen slipped back.
Behind Sainz, however, were the Ferraris of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen and by lap 10 both had cleared the Spaniard to begin a fascinating race-long battle with the Red Bulls.
The first stint saw Riccirado hold his lead. The Australian eventually pitted on lap 11 to abandon his starting soft tyres for a set of medium tyres. Verstappen was then brought in a lap later for a set of medium tyres. The Dutch driver was joined in pit lane by Raikkonen, who would shadow the youngster throughout.
Vettel though stayed on track, seeking to maintain pace in the hope of gaining an advantage in the next phase of the race. The Ferrari driver eventually headed for the pit lane on lap 15 and like those around him he also took on medium tyres.
It was the second stint that shaped the race result. By lap 25 the gaps at the front were closing as Ricciardo encountered traffic and Vettel’s newer tyres began to give him an advantage.
With the gaps between the main protagonists hovering around the one-second mark, Ricciardo pitted again on lap 28, taking on a set of soft compound tyres. Ferrari immediately responded, bringing Vettel in on the next lap for the same compound. Verstappen and Raikkonen continued to circulate, however, with Verstappen soon becoming the youngest driver to ever lead a grand prix.
On soft tyres, Ricciardo and Vettel would need to make another pit stop, but as the laps counted down it become increasingly clear that Max and Raikkonen would attempt a two-stop race.
Verstappen made his final stop on lap 34 for more mediums and Raikkonen pitted fro the same compound a lap later. It would be the last stop for the pair.
Vettel then made his bid podium glory. Having not had the chance to undercut Ricciardo in the first stint, Ferrari went aggressive with the German’s third stop, pitting the four-time champion after just eight laps on his soft tyres. Ricciardo, meanwhile, nursed his tyres to lap 43, when he also took on another set of medium tyres.
Verstappen now led from Raikkonen, with Vettel third and Ricciardo fourth. Raikkonen piled on the pressure, but Verstappen was flawless across his long final stint. The teenager managed his pace and tyre-life with aplomb and as the race entered its final laps he began to look ever more comfortbale.
It was less so for Vettel. Ricciardo, with new tyres onboard, began to exert pressure and closed right up behind the German. The pressure ended on the penultimate when Ricciardo’s left-rear tyre suddenly deflated. The Australian had a enough time in hand, however, to make a stop for new tyres and hold the position to the flag.
Ahead, however, Verstappen was making history, crossing the line ahead of Raikkone. Vettel was third ahead of Ricciardo, while Williams’ Valtteri Bottas was a lonely fifth. Carlos Sainz drove an excellent race to finish sixth in front of his home fans and the Spaniard finished ahead of Force India’s Sergio Perez, Williams Felipe Mass and McLaren’s Jenson Button. The final point on offer went to Daniil Kvyat on his return to Toro Rosso.